The Communication of Properties

Communication of Properties

Girolamo Zanchi
De Religione Christiana Fides
Confession of Christian Religion
pp. 425-441.

Of those things which are spoken of our Lord Jesus Christ, after the union: and in what sort they are spoken. Out of the 1st chapter to the Ephesians. Positions.

[Three Kinds of Names.]

1. The apostle writeth that “Christ was raised from the dead” and therefore he truly died, in another place, “the Lord of glory” was, yea, we often read how “the Son of Man” was delivered unto death. But in all these enunciations the speech is ever of the same person, namely the Son of God incarnate. Therefore the person of Christ, which is in these propositions the subject, or that whereof another thing is spoken, is used to be signified by three kinds of names: Namely, by those which betoken the divine nature only, and that sometime in respect of the essence, sometime in respect of the hypostasy or persons, as, “the Lord of glory,” “the only begotten Son of God;” or which betoken in like sort the human nature only, as, “man,” “the son of Mary;” or which betoken both natures together, as, “Christ,” “Immanuel,” “God incarnate.”

2. We add hereunto that Christ’s very person is signified by those names also which are taken from the offices of a Mediator—as these: a Mediator, a Redeemer, a Savior, a High Priest, an Advocate, and such like. But these may be referred to the third kind, because by them are showed and made known both the natures in one person.

3. The concrete names which have denomination of the natures, as man of the humanity, and God of the deity, when in speaking of Christ they be the subjects, or the first part of the enunciation or sentence, they have two significations—one formal (as the schools say) and the other material—of which, by the former is meant the very nature; by the other, the person, which hath such a nature, whereof it taketh denomination.

[Abstract vs. Concrete.]

4. For as names in the abstract do signify only the nature and property, which is in a thing, so all names in the concrete do betoken both the nature and quality, which is in the thing, and the hypostasis, wherein it is; as (for examples sake) the name of “just” betokeneth both justice wherewith one is made just, and him which is just, both together. [1]

5. Therefore by these subject names which having their denominations from the natures do show the person of Christ—sometimes is declared the property of the natures, sometimes the unity of the person; and therefore the subjects must be understood and expounded according to the diversities of the predicates that are of those things which are spoken thereof.

[Subject: Nature or Person?]

6. In this proposition, “the Son of God is eternal,” the subject (namely the Son of God) must be expounded according to the propriety of the nature. But in this, “the only begotten Son of God suffered,” the subject (the only begotten Son of God) must be understood according to the unity of the person. For he suffered, which was not only man, but also God; yet the Deity remaining impassible.

7. We deny not, but many times are found words in the abstract, which are the subjects, as, (the light) came into the world; as also some which are predicates, as Christ is (the light of the world, our righteousness, our peace), but these stand instead of concretives, as the light came into the world, that is, he which lighteneth us. Wherefore for the manner of such like words, they are to be referred to some of the foresaid three kinds.

[Three Kinds of Attributes.]

8. Furthermore there are three kinds of attributes which use to be spoken of the same person of Christ, God and man, by what name soever it be signified. For some are proper to the divine nature, and therefore cannot really be communicated to the other nature—as, to be impassible, eternal, immeasurable. Some are proper to the human nature, and therefore cannot altogether indeed be communicated to the other nature—as to be made, to be finite, and passible. And other some proper to the whole person consisting of both natures, and therefore common to both natures together, as to be a Mediator, a Redeemer, a Savior.

9. To this third kind pertain those actions which the Greek fathers called the actions of God and man, or actions divine and human, because in the works of our redemption, each form worketh not the property of the other, but of itself, yet with the communion of the other, the Word working that which belongeth to the Word, and the flesh performing that which belongeth to the flesh.

10. Of these three kinds of attributes, we find in ourselves an example not unlike. For in a man, some things are proper only to the soul—as to be immortal, to understand, to will; some things to the body only—as to be mortal, palpable, heavy; some things common to them both—as be such works to the performance whereof, each part worketh that which is proper to it, with communion of the other, as to write, to speak, to run, and to do whatsoever is done by the ministry of the body, yet not without the virtue and guidance of the soul.

[Diverse Types of Predication.]

11. Now of this which hath been said of the diverse subjects and predicates, there followeth a diversity also of predication. Every predication therefore of Christ is either proper and simple, or else improper and figurative.

[Proper and Simple.]

12. The proper and simple predication falleth two ways: One is, when those things which are proper to one nature, they are predicated or said of the person of Christ, being expressed by a name either denominated of the same nature, or proper to the person, as, “this our God or Christ is omnipotent, and everywhere present;” also, “this man, or Christ, suffered and died.” The other is, when such things as are proper to the whole person, they are said also of the whole person signified by a name, that containeth both the natures, such as these are that belong to the office of a Mediator, and the honor of an Head, as, “Christ, Immanuel, God incarnate, redeemed us, sanctified us, saved us, is a King, is to be worshiped,” etc., which are said therefore to be proper to the person, because they can be severally applied to neither of the natures. Now all such be proper and simple propositions because in all which are of the same kind, the predicates be coupled with the subjects in all those things which are of the very same kind.

[Improper and Figurative.]

13. The improper and figurative predication is likewise twofold: One, when as these things which are proper to the whole person, either belonging to the office of a Mediator, or to the honor of an Head, the same are said of one of the natures signified either by an abstractive or a concretive name—as, “the flesh quickeneth, the blood washeth from sin, God redeemed the Church, the Mediator of God and men, man,” etc. The other, when that which is proper to one nature is said of the other nature signified by a name which is concretive, and which betokeneth the person—as, “God suffered and died; man when he was on earth, was also at the same time in heaven [John 3:13].”

14. For in those improper propositions of the latter sort, the proprieties of diverse kinds are coupled as words concretive, and therefore God is improperly said to suffer, inasmuch as the name God in its own proper signification doth betoken the divine essence which cannot suffer. But in respect of the person being meant, which is also man, it is a true (though an improper) proposition, and therefore these things are said of the whole person by a synecdoche, whereas indeed they agree not to the same, but only in respect of one nature.

[Mutual Interchange, or Reciprocation of Names.]

15. This latter form of an improper speech we call the community of properties, as the Greeks do, which Theodoret expounding calleth the community of names; and [John] Damascene, the trope of retribution.

16. For with them ιδιότητα was a concretive word signifying the property of some nature. And κοινωνια or άντίδοσις was, when as the ίδιωμάτων or properties of one nature were mutually and reciprocally spoken of the concrete name of the other nature, which name did signify the person. So that it is mere folly, to think that the fathers when they spake of the communication of the idioms [properties], that they meant to speak of any real powering or communication of the essential properties of one nature into the other, seeing they write plainly, “the unity maketh the names common,” but never maketh “the things” common. [ή ενωσις κοινά ποιεϊ τά όνόματα, nusquam autem, τά πράγματα].

17. For if our talk be of the natures themselves, which are in Christ, Theodoret with other fathers teacheth us that we must so speak, as we do not say, that those which are proper to the one nature are in very deed common to the other, but that we give to either of them alone, that which belongeth to it. Even as that which belongeth to the soul, we give it not to the body, and contrariwise. But if we speak of the person, we must so frame our speech, that we may declare those things which are proper to each nature to be truly and indeed common to the whole person, even as also we give to the whole man really and in truth, as well those things which belong to the soul, as to the body. Now his very words after his bringing in of the similitude of the soul and the body and the whole man follow thus. So we must speak of Christ. And when we speak of the natures in Christ we must give to each of them those things which do befit each; and we must know what things are proper to the divinity and what to the humanity. But when as we speak of the person, we must make those things which are proper to the nature common, and must fit these very same to our Savior Christ, and we must call him both God and man, both the Son of God and the Son of man, both the son of David and the Lord of David, both the seed of Abraham and the Creator of Abraham, and so of all the rest. The same doctrine he also confirmeth out of Amphilochius, bishop of Iconium, and out of other fathers, in many places in his dialogues.

18. Damascene also to expound the same matter, to wit, how the same things which belong to one nature should be communicated to the other, namely in person, writeth thus: “The Word doth appropriate unto itself those things which belong to man. For those things which pertain to his holy flesh be his; and he doth (by a manner of mutual predication) impart those things which are proper to himself unto the flesh, by reason of the being of the parts mutually one within the other, and their hypostatic or personal union.

19. Out of which place it evidently appeareth, first, that those things which are of the flesh are no less given to the Word than the things of the Word to the flesh; then, that they which belong to the Word, are given to the flesh after no other manner than they which pertain to the flesh are given to the Word. Lastly, that this manner of giving is called the manner of mutual predication, not simply and in the abstractive names of the natures, but in the concretive noting the person.

20. Moreover what this manner of predication is, and why it is so called, the same Damascene expoundeth in the fourth chapter both by example, and by the cause in these words: “This manner of mutual predication is, when those things which are proper to one nature, are spoken of the other nature, by reason of the hypostatic identity or personal union of them both; and for that the one nature is in the other—for example we may say of Christ, this our God was seen upon the earth and conversed with men; and this man is uncreated, not subject to passion, not circumscribed in any place.” And the examples added do manifestly show how one nature doth attribute those things which are proper unto itself to the other, and for what cause. For God, (in that, by this name is meant the divine essence) was not seen on earth; but only, in that the person is meant by it, which is both God and man.

21. Therefore we dislike not that received description of the communicating of properties. The communication of the properties is a predication wherein the property agreeable to one nature is given to the person in a name concrete; because these two natures, the Word and the human nature taken, are one existence or person.

22. Thus therefore we judge that the communication of the properties may not amiss be defined. The communication of the properties is a predication, or a manner of speech, wherein the property (that is the concrete name signifying the property of one nature) is spoken really of Christ’s person signified by the name of the other nature; and is spoken (only in word) of the other nature, in the concrete, by reason of the conjunction of the natures and the personal union thereof.

23. But we say it is all one to be predicated or said of the person signified by the concrete name of the other nature; and to be said of the concrete name of the other nature signifying the person; as also the property, and the concrete name signifying the property of the one nature, are in this matter alone.

24. For this question was propounded by the fathers against the heretics, not so much about the things themselves, as about the manners of speaking, which the Holy Scripture useth speaking of Jesus Christ, when sometime it sayeth, The Lord of glory was crucified (1 Cor. 2:18); sometime, The Son of man when he was on earth, was also in heaven (John 3:13); and other such like, namely, how such phrases should be understood.

25. For none of any sound judgment ever doubted but as the natures, so also the essential properties of both the natures, remained distinct, whole, and unconfounded in the person of Jesus Christ after the union, so as (for example sake) neither the Deity was made passible and local, nor the humanity impassible and uncircumscribed, as some heretics falsifying the Scriptures have blasphemed.

26. Now the very foundation of this whole exposition was the true and near uniting of the two natures within themselves, and a meeting of them into one and the same person unspeakably made without conversion, without confusion, without division, without separation.

27. For Damascene declaring this after he had taught, how those things which are of the flesh are given to the Word, and likewise how the things of the Word are communicated to the flesh, namely, according to this manner of predication; he adjoineth the cause thereof, saying, “by reason of the meeting together of the parties one with the other; and the hypostatic or personal union;” and in the fourth chapter, “This is the manner (saith he) of mutual predication, when as one nature doth give the proprieties of one nature to the other which it doth in respect of the personal identity, and the joining of the natures one with the other.” Now this joining of the natures one with the other is the very union that is an inward, absolute and most perfect, uniting them together. As Damascene both elsewhere, and especially in his fourth book, and 18th chapter, expoundeth it saying, “But the divine nature once going through the flesh, gave unto the flesh also an unspeakable going to the divine nature, which we call the union.”

29. We ourselves add, that this union is also the final cause of this form of speaking, because therefore this reciprocal predication is delivered in the Holy Scripture, that the true unity of the natures in one person of Jesus Christ might be showed; which is the cause, why these verbal predications can by no means be said to be vain or to no purpose, seeing they have great use, showing how the two natures are united into one person without confusion.

[Communication of Properties Both Verbal and Real, in Different Ways.]

30. Moreover, this same communication of the properties (for example, in this proposition “God was crucified“) we say to be both verbal, and real, in diverse respects. For in that, by this concrete word, (God) is meant a person, which is not only God, but also man; it is a real predication. For because he was man, therefore he truly and indeed died. But as the Deity is meant by the formal signification, (as they speak) or as God simply is meant thereby, it is a verbal predication, and that a true one. For God is truly said to have died, by reason of the person together meant; and that, which is God indeed died not, nor could die, although he which is God did truly die.

[Rules of Predication Regarding the Concrete and Abstract.]

31. These things thus declared, it is easy to judge of the diverse enunciations, which be true and which false, and in what manner of predication each one is to be taken. Neither one nature nor the properties thereof can by any means, neither in the abstractive name nor in the concretive, be predicated or spoken of the other nature signified in the abstractive. For it is as false to say, “The human nature, or the humanity, is God,” as to say, “The humanity is the Deity.” And as false to say, “The humanity is immeasurable and infinite,” as to say, “the humanity is very immeasurableness or infiniteness.” Therefore in all the Scriptures is no such kind of speech to be found.

32. Neither can one nature or the properties thereof be spoken in the abstract, or the other nature signified either in an abstractive or concretive name. For both these propositions are false: “God is the humanity,” and, “the Deity is the humanity.”

33. Of either of the natures signified by what name soever, the things that are proper thereunto may truly be spoken, and that of them both in the concrete; but of the divine in the abstract also, by reason of the simplicity thereof. For this proposition is as true and proper, “the Deity is omnipotent,” as “this God is omnipotent, yea, even omnipotence itself.” And again, “humanity and a man is mutable.”

34. Of the person expressed by the proper name and that name which noteth both the natures, or by a name signifying the office of a Mediator, as well the things which are proper to the one or to the other, or to both the natures together, may truly and properly be spoken—as, “Christ is omnipotent,” also, “Christ is man, Christ died.” Also, “Christ is a Redeemer, a Mediator.” Also, “the Mediator is God, is man, is immortal, died, redeemed us.

35. Of the person signified by a name of one nature, the things which are proper thereunto may truly and properly be spoken—as, “This God” or “only begotten Son of God is eternal and omnipotent.” Also, “This man,” or, “the Son of man was born in the last days, died.

36. Those things which are proper to the whole person, cannot be spoken (but by a synecdoche, a part taken for the whole) of one nature signified either by an abstractive or concretive name—as, “The flesh quickeneth,” “God redeemed his Church.”

37. Wherefore this saying of Leo, “Each form worketh that which belongeth to itself,” we with Damascene say, to be all one with this, (and that properly) “Christ worketh according to each form.”

38. So where John said, his blood washeth us from sin (Rev. 1:5); and Christ saith, “My flesh is meat indeed” (John 6:55); also where it is said to quicken, and that, it is to be worshiped—those words are put for concretives, namely, the flesh of Christ, for Christ incarnate; and the blood of Christ, for Christ by his blood.

39. For he which said, he that “eateth my flesh…hath eternal life,” the same said, “he that eateth me…he shall live by me.” And he which wrote, his blood washeth us from sin, the same expounding himself saith, Christ shall wash us from our sins by his blood. And they which taught that Christ’s flesh was to be worshiped, they also expressed the cause, namely, not because it was flesh, but because it was flesh of God, and therefore that Christians do worship not flesh properly, but God incarnate.

40. Of the person signified by the name of the one nature, the things that belong to the other nature may indeed truly and really be spoken, but yet improperly, and figuratively, by communication of the properties—as, The Son of man is both in heaven and on earth at once (John 3:13). Also, The only begotten, and Lord of glory was crucified (1 Cor. 2:8).

41. Hereof followeth another—of the one nature signified in a concretive name, the things proper to the other may truly be spoken, by reason of the person together noted, yet not really, but only in respect of the name: As, “God (taken in the formal signification) died;” “man is eternal.”

42. Wherefore we say that those things are predicated, or spoken, by communication of the properties, which being proper to one of the natures, are made common also to the other in the concrete by the mutual manner of predication—namely while they are really attributed to the person, whereof each nature is a part.

43. For seeing Christ most truly and really is both God and man, we doubt not to say, and with the whole church to teach, that he suffered, namely (for example sake) according to the one nature, and suffered not, namely according to the other.

44. And seeing the Scripture saith, both that God is immortal, and also that the same died and was crucified—we teach that in the former speech the name of God is taken essentially, in the latter hypostatically or personally, and therefore that both these are true in the speech concerning Christ; but that both of them are spoken of the same in a diverse manner of predication.

45. Whatsoever things we read to have been really given to Christ in time after the union, the same may truly and really be spoken of the person, in respect of the humanity, and therefore also of the humanity itself. But it is to be understood, that they cannot be spoken in respect of the divinity, and being signified by a concrete name, but only by communication of the properties. An example of the first: “The Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, etc.” (Isa. 11:2); an example of the other: he hath given unto him (his Son, who is from heaven, whom the Father sent) his Spirit above measure (John 3:34). For he (as he is the only begotten Son) cannot be said to have really received the Spirit, but only by communication of the properties.

46. But the things which we confess were given after this manner, were not the essential proprieties of God but only gifts of creation, and (as they call them) habitual graces which belong partly to the perfection of Christ’s human nature—partly to the perfecting of the office of a Mediator, partly to the honor of the Head of the Church.

[Properties United in the Person, but Not Communicated Between the Natures.]

47. For the essential properties of God are united most really with the human nature in the same person, but they are not really communicated to it, in its own very essence.

48. For (to omit almost infinite of other reasons and testimonies of the apostles and ancient fathers) what things Christ received as man, in the essence of his human nature, he received the same that he might, as being Head, derive them into his members—as Athanasius and Cyril are witnesses—seeing he therefore sanctified himself, that we also might be sanctified—and the oil was poured upon Aaron’s head, that it might run down on all his members even to the skirts of his clothing (Ps. 133:2).

49. And who (except a mad man) would say that the essential properties of God are derived unto us?

50. The cause also why Christ as he is God, cannot be said to have received gifts of creation, is by Cyril assigned to be this: “Because as God he needed them not.” Therefore, if also, as he is man, he received the essential properties of God, really communicated unto him, he cannot then be said to have received the created gifts of the Holy Ghost. For to that end serveth a finite power in him which is endued with an infinite power really communicated unto him.



[1] Zanchius uses the terms concrete/concretive and abstract/abstractive throughout in the following senses:

“The communicatio [idiomatum] can be characterized as either in concreto or in abstracto. The former qualification, in concreto, refers to the concretion of Christ’s person in the incarnation and personal union; the two natures are here considered as joined in the person, and the interchange of attributes is understood as taking place at the level of the person and not between the two natures… The latter qualification, in abstracto, refers to the abstractive consideration of the relation of the two natures to each other distinct from their union in the person and to the exchange of properties between the natures, specifically, a communication of divine properties to the human nature.” (Richard Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms, p. 72).

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